New Age movement crystallizes among college students

Thomas Maye / THE GATEPOST

The spires of Towers loom over The Serendipity Place, a sliver of a store just five minutes from campus. 

In the wall-to-wall lavender, Kristina Matias occupies the counter. Having set up shop just two years ago, she said she sees several college students buy the glimmering crystals and gems she claims help with ailments varying from depression and anxiety, to test-taking jitters.

Her beliefs have yet to reach mainstream status – but they could be getting close. 

The New Age movement of the ’70s is back and better than ever in Framingham, but its come a long way from the bell bottoms and Grateful Dead posters of yesteryear. From “sacred childbirth with Reiki” sessions on Main Street, to past life readings and “chakra balancing” sessions in Natick, psychics and new age healers have become something of a strip mall phenomenon.

And while they’re a bit off the radar, beliefs in New Age concepts like healing crystals are resonating far beyond the crazy cat lady and aging hippy demographic they’re typically associated with. 

The non-denominational, calming spiritualism of the New Age Movement is increasingly gaining traction with millennials, whom the New York Post calls “The Anxious generation.” The generation is afflicted by high rates of reported mental illness and a growing skepticism toward organized religion, according to Pew Research Center. Stress, mental illness, and anxiety are an epidemic among college students – and, with crystal sellers claiming their products hold the power to ward off negative energy through mysterious, psychic energy fields – New Age beliefs are becoming more popular.

First, a few disclaimers – while healing crystals have accumulated a growing following, they’re widely regarded as pseudoscience. In other words, there are no double-blind studies proving that crystals work better than a placebo.

For the most part, crystals enthusiasts are well aware of the fact. Despite collecting moonstone, amethyst, selenite, and other crystals for their metaphysical properties, junior Emily McCabe said she wasn’t sure if their calming influence went beyond the placebo effect. 

When McCabe described what people believed each of her crystals can do, there was a definite element of individuality lacking in more structured beliefs. Each crystal can help for a different need, she said – clear quartz can help in “clearing minds,” while moonstone can help people “connect to their femininity,” for instance. 

And though there’s an undeniable spiritualism to the belief in healing crystals, it isn’t always the same as outright worship. Matias described the practice as “spiritual,” but not always necessarily religious – people can vary in how devoted they are to them, she said.

Still, for some, crystals provide users with a deep connection and feeling of security. 

Junior Kit Mauriello said, “Keeping them with me feels like walking around in a suit of armor, like I’m being protected.”  

Matias said, “Sometimes, the crystal chooses you.”

According to “Crystal Crash Course: A Beginner’s Guide to Healing Crystals,” crystals are used as a tool for “manifestation.” Users reflect and visualize a desired outcome in their minds, and believe the crystals can absorb negative or attract positive energies. 

According to the site, the energy of the crystals can be “recharged” to maintain effectivity by burying it in the Earth to “absorb Earth energy” – other sites mention submerging them in salt water, or laying them out in the moonlight. However, as most sites mention, users should not expect a panacea.

“They’re a tool,” Matias said. “You still have to put in the physical work.”

The meditative quality of crystal manifestation may not be far from mindfulness, which has exploded in popularity in recent years. A Forbes article says that Headspace, a popular app teaching mindfulness meditation, has been valued at “about $250 million” – in other words, helping Americans chill out is big business. 

Healing crystals echo this trend – McCabe and Mauriello both emphasized the “calming” quality of the crystals, which they said brought them a sense of peace and tranquility.

“There’s this energy that they give off that feels so healing and alive,” Mauriello said. 

The crystals industry may not be harmless, though. Marie Young, writing for online magazine The Liberty Project, said that many sellers don’t know where their crystals come from after changing hands multiple times. As a result, she said, they could be selling products from mines with harmful environmental practices or unethical labor practices, like the use of child labor.

However, Matias said crystal sellers have an economic incentive to use sustainable environmental practices, as this ensures a better quality product.

And, as Matias mentioned, crystals are only a tool – they cannot be relied on to replace standard medical intervention.

Regardless, with well over 300,000 results for “Healing Crystals” on Etsy, the trend shows no signs of slowing down. 

“I think the main factor that draws me towards this type of lifestyle is the freedom of it – there aren’t really the strict rules that often come with traditional religions. The main goal is to better yourself and the world around you,” Mauriello said. 

“I also like the philosophy that everyone has power within them, and it’s up to each person to decide how they interact with it,” they said. 

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